A MINI on its own is already an unconventional choice, but one that can be propelled forward by its rear wheels on electricity alone is as intriguing as it is unusual. If you need an indication of just how far the BMW Group (which owns MINI) has travelled down the path of electrification, look no further than the MINI Countryman Plug-in Hybrid.
Born and bred in Oxford, but schooled in Munich
Many have equated the Countryman PHEV’s powertrain to that of a detuned BMW i8, yet its true mechanical next of kin is in fact the BMW 225xe hatchback sold in Europe; both deploy a hybrid set up which sees a 136hp/220Nm turbocharged 1.5-litre inline 3-cylinder driving the front wheels through a six-speed automatic, aided by a 88hp/165Nm electric motor minding the rears, all for a combined system output of 224hp and 385Nm, battery charge permitting.
Suffice it to say, this is a nippy crossover, it accelerates even faster than the combustion-only Cooper S Countryman; 0-100km/h is done in 6.8 seconds despite the plug-in weighing around 200kg more than the latter. The weight of the lithium-ion battery pack (7.6kWh worth) and hybrid components obviously has a bearing on how it behaves on the road, but the nimble handling characteristics expected of a MINI is largely intact. The fact that the battery pack resides under the rear bench helps the MINI retain a low centre of gravity, while the ride does feel a touch calmer against the current crop firm-riding MINIs.
But what’s most enjoyable about this electrified MINI is how matured the hybrid system feels; there are no drivetrain lurches, no weird noises that make you second guess the technology, just forward motion that’s immediate and linear each time you put the right foot down. It’s apparent that the BMW Group has the calibration of dual power sources with different peak outputs down pat, just like what they’ve achieved with the iPerformance models from the BMW stable.
If anything, the pleasure derived from the electric drive does make you end up wishing for more (on paper there should be 42km worth) but tacking on more cells would’ve made the Countryman exceedingly heavy and less usable. To this end, the packaging of the Countryman plug-in is impressive in that the rear cargo space still measures an entirely useful 405 litres – just 45 litres down on a regular Countryman – and 1275 litres with rear seats folded. For context, a Volkswagen Golf offers 380 litres and 1270 litres, insofar as practicality goes, the Countryman plug-in is near uncompromised.
So why aren’t there more takers?
Since its launch in April last year, only around 90 units of the Countryman plug-in found new owners in Malaysia, this is in contrast to approximately 500 units for the Countryman Cooper S over the same period. Granted that there’s a price difference of RM10,000 or 4% between the two Countryman variants (the PHEV goes for RM250,888, the Cooper S for RM240,888, both are locally assembled), you would think that the take-up ratio be more equitable as the hybrid is more economical to run (assuming you do charge it regularly), faster-accelerating and just as well equipped.
Some say the hybrid fad has run its course, but for Malaysian car buyers, it has always hinged on perceived value and bang-for-buck ever since incentives for hybrid vehicles came about, no matter how compelling the environmental message may be. Until we have holistic automotive policies that can co-exist with environmental agendas, the fact that one out of five MINI Countryman sold being a plug-in does constitute an encouraging stat, and a testament to the ethos at BMW Group of producing eco-friendly cars that are no less fun to drive.
MINI Countryman Plug-in Hybrid ALL4
Price: RM250,888 Engine: 1.5-litre four-cylinder, AWD Output: 136hp / 220Nm Electric Output: 88hp / 165Nm Combined Output: 224hp / 385Nm Transmission: 6-speed automatic Performance: 0-100km/h in 6.8 seconds; top speed 198km/h Wheels/tyres: 225/45 R19 Safety: 6 airbags, Electronic Stability Control Warranty: 4-year/unlimited mileage